Carrie

In which The Author loses a virtual friend

In my last entry I wrote about meeting people in Cyberspace, which is the main purpose behind social networking, after all. I’ve never really explored or exploited that aspect of the Internet to its full extent, to be honest. I used to really enjoy posting on forums in the early days, but the novelty seemed to have died off for a lot of them. I don’t have access to the email accounts I used to register with most of them, and I can’t be bothered to go through the whole palaver of registering a whole new username and password.
However, even though I’m a frequent Facebook user and Tweeter (as well as blogging regularly), I’ve always been wary about accepting friend requests from complete strangers. In the days when I still used MySpace, I remember getting countless friend requests from apparently real women with identical profiles. Some of my younger friends have well over a thousand friends on Facebook – and I’ve no idea what other social networking sites are out there these days. Even I was to take into account everyone I was in school with, everyone I was in university with (both times), all my former work colleagues, and every single person I’d ever had a pint with, I doubt whether the total would exceed a couple of thousand. Filter out the ones who don’t go online, the ones who don’t use social networking, and the ones I wouldn’t be interested in speaking to anyway, and I still wouldn’t hit a thousand. Some of the kids I know seem to use their Friends Lists in the way we used to use Top Trumps – simply to see who can get the highest total. It’s madness; they could be talking to literally anyone online. I’ve nearly had my fingers burnt a couple of times since I first got connected (see From Russia With Love for one example) and I’m a lot more circumspect about who gets past the virtual bouncers and into my exclusive online club these days.
If I look through my Facebook friends list, there is only a handful of people I haven’t actually met in the flesh:
  • Siân S., who runs a pub in Pontyclun, and whom I know only through friends in bands
  • Sally C., from Yorkshire, who is Andy T,’s partner, and I promise I’ll tell the story about how I met Andy within the next week
  • Nancy from Canada, whom I met through Aberdare Online and subsequently via Facebook
  • Carolyn Ellis, whom I met the same way
Carolyn lived some distance to the east of me, in a town called Abertillery. She was married to Clive, with grown-up children and a number of grandchildren. We met on Aberdare Online when it was still a fun place to hang out, where she’d entertain us with her daft jokes and banter. We never met up because, although Aberdare to Abertillery doesn’t look that far on the map, without a car it’s a full day trip. I don’t think I’ve been there since I was in my late teens or early twenties, when it was still possible to travel around South Wales without having to plan it like a military operation first (see Nice Work If You Can Get There and On the Road Again.) Instead, we had to be content with exchanging silly comments online.
Carrie, as she was known to her family and friends, was a keen genealogist and a local history enthusiast. When I really got going on the Vanishing Valleys project, I suggested that maybe she could be my local ‘stringer’ when I finally got round to photographing Abertillery and the surrounding area. However, I haven’t started work on the eastern Valleys yet, so Abertillery is still firmly on the ‘to do’ list. I’d also pencilled it as part of Operation W.W.W.W.W.W, and thought that maybe Carrie and Clive would like to join me for a quick pint while I was passing through that part of the world. I was going to wait until the spring came, and then run the idea past them.
Carrie’s Facebook was hacked a couple of months ago, and she had to set up a new profile jointly with her husband. It was business as usual for a while, and then all went quiet again. The strange thing is that I hadn’t really noticed her absence online until this afternoon. I’d just assumed that she was immersed deep in the gene pool (as she always referred to her family history research) and was taking a break away from Facebook. Then I wondered whether she’d been hacked again, so this evening I decided to see if her profile was still active.
Instead of the usual Carrie nonsense, I found a number of messages of sympathy from her legion of friends across Cyberspace. She’d passed away in hospital on 6 October, and her funeral took place on the 25th. I posted my own message and came away feeling deeply saddened. Even though we’d never met in Real Life, we were good friends in Cyberspace. I’m still shocked by this news, and my thoughts go out to her family. RIP Carrie.
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